Sunday, 9 November 2014

Coming To An End To Find A New Beginning

I didn't know how I was going to start this post. To be honest, it was something that I was toying with all day, trying to find the words to explain what I'm thinking.

The thing is, I'm going to be stopping this blog.

I'm not quitting blogging altogether, lord only knows that my rambling needs an outlet, it's just that after taking the commitment to sit down and write this blog I've realised something.

I'm not entirely happy with the content that I've been putting out.

It's not been my best work (I know it's not been my best work) and one thing that is vital to my writing is that I give it everything that I've got and that I push the boundaries- something which I haven't been doing with this blog.

So, I'm going to take some time away to think about what I really want to talk about. I want to create a blog that I can be proud of, rather than something that feels more of a chore than a pleasure.

Sometimes, we need to start again to get to where we want to be. It can be scary and feel as though you're diving into the unknown but to me that's what writing is all about: testing the waters, trying new things and seeing how far you can go.

This isn't goodbye but rather a bye for now. I will be back and I'm sure my blog and my writing will be better than ever.

Speak soon,

Mary Lou xx

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Should You Do NaNoWriMo: Yes or No?

So, unbelievably, it's that time of year again where many writers across the UK and beyond begin the annual challenge of NaNoWriMo.

Image from NaNoWriMo official site

For any of you that don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place every November. Writers who choose to take part have exactly one month to complete a brand new 50,000 word novel or else lose the challenge.

The one thing that's guaranteed? There will be blood, sweat and tears but if you do it you're in for a sense of great accomplishment.

Personally, I've decided not to do NaNoWriMo due to being in the middle of a novel already (where I have set my own deadline of having the first draft completed by 31st March) as well as a hectic personal and professional life. There is often a lot of debate over the usefulness of NaNoWriMo with both sides arguing the benefits and repercussions of the challenge and so I thought that I would list them here so that anyone who was considering doing the challenge, or who was considering doing the challenge next year, might get to see both sides of the argument and make their own judgement.

Firstly, I like to think of myself as an optimist, so here are the reasons for doing NaNoWriMo:

1) It gives you the kick up the bum to actually write a novel.

This is one of the key arguments to take part in the challenge. When you know that you have 30 days to get 50,000 words down, you'd better believe that you're going to get writing- how else are you going to meet that target? I don't know about you but I can't type in my sleep! Even according to their website it's all about 'valuing enthusiasm, determination and a deadline.'

2) It shows you what you're capable of.

Let me guess, when you first heard the idea of writing a novel in 30 days part of you went, "Pfft, yeah right!" The thing is a lot of people have. A lot of people have taken up the challenge and succeeded, showing that they could push the boundaries and that they didn't have as many limitations as they originally thought.

3) It's something that you can say you actually did.

Some people climb mountains, others trek across the Sahara Desert, you? You completed NaNoWriMo. It's something that you can look back on and say, "I did that."

4) It introduces you to a community of writers.

Whilst doing the challenge you can speak to other writers via the forums on the site to ask for advice or to give each other encouragement. What's more, the challenge is widely discussed in the writing community and you can often find posts or groups discussing the challenge on social media platforms such as Google + or Facebook.

5) The challenge forces you to establish a routine and focus your thoughts.

You don't have time to be messing about! Having such a strict deadline means that you need to learn self-discipline and quickly if you hope to win. This means knowing what you're going to be writing each day and working out when you can take the time to fit in roughly 1,666 words a day! Tricky stuff!

Now for some of the reasons why you shouldn't:

1) Personal schedule

Let's face it, November is a busy time. It's on the run up to Christmas (Thanksgiving for some), work naturally gets busier and a lot of the time is spent trying to juggle a lot of balls in the air. Do you really have the time to throw NaNoWriMo on top? Between trying to get the shopping in, trying to do X Y and Z and keeping up to date with what's going on with the family, can you fit in 1,666 words?

2) You are working on other projects.

If, like myself, you're in the middle of a novel or are working hard on a competition submission, you may not have the time or desire to drop it all to try and write a novel in a month. You may have your own tight deadline to work with which means that you can't be distracted from what you're trying to do.

3) You may not be willing to go through the rollercoaster of emotions.

While some may say that pushing yourself to the limit is all part of the fun, you may be unwilling to go through the stress of trying to complete the challenge in 30 days. Do you work well under pressure? If not, you may want to reconsider doing this challenge. If the thought of trying to meet the target brings you out in a cold sweat, it may not be for you. It's also important to consider how you'll feel if you don't complete it. Will it have a damning affect on your confidence if you don't win? Will it benefit you in the long run and inspire you to try harder next time or make you want to cry in a corner somewhere? Think about it.

4) How will you feel looking at your (let's face it) rushed first draft?

Let's be honest here. The first draft of anything is always awful. We read it whilst peeking through our fingers, grimacing at some of the embarrassing choice of words or cringing as a cup magically moves from a character's hands to the sink. It's never a pretty sight. Keeping this in mind, how are you going to feel when reading over your 50,000 words only to see all of the inevitable mistakes and clumsy spelling mistakes that are going to be in there? Will you lose that victory glow when the reality hits of what your month of hard work has churned out? Will the product of your hard work and dedication be receiving a one way ticket to the bin? Was your idea that good after all or did you just waste a month typing an idea that has a plot hole the size? Hm...

5) You're happier writing a novel at your own pace.

We're all different, what's more is that we all write differently. While the actual process of typing or writing a sequence of words down is the same, the way we get to that process can vary from person to person. Some people spend months planning every detail before writing the first word while others let the words run out of them and see where the story goes as they write it. The point is, no two people have the same way of writing a novel so to ask people to all write a novel in 30 days is a tall order. While some people may be perfectly comfortable with the challenge, others may want to take the time to chew things over during the time spent actively writing. I have often found myself having to mull a chapter over for a few days before finishing it or having to write the outcome in various ways before settling on what will happen to that particular character in that particular scene. We're all wired differently and so therefore there is no sure fire way to get every single writer to go ahead and write a novel at the same time, it simply won't work for everyone.

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo or have you decided not to? Why? Let me know!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Right, raise your hands, who's bottling something up right now?

No matter if you're an extrovert or an introvert, emotions can be tricky. While they are a natural part of being human and give us the ability to feel empathy or follow a set of morals, they can also cause us problems.

They can cause us to have strong reactions at inappropriate times or make us want to behave in a way that could mean problems later on. They can cause us to want to lose our temper or have us cry when we need to keep a level head.

Emotions, if we let them take hold of us, can get in the way.

So, what do we do when we feel one build up inside of us and we can't release it? We store it for later.

Whether it's the red hot fire of anger or the twitchiness of anxiety, we smother it down and make a note to deal with it when it's more appropriate.

But what happens when we don't deal with that feeling? What if we leave it on constant pause so that it simmers below the surface?

What happens if you keep blowing into a balloon without releasing any air? It bursts.

Image from Google
I have to admit here, that this is something that I used to have a lot of problems with. I used to get really annoyed, refuse to confront the issue in fear that it would trigger an argument I wasn't willing to face, figuratively explode and lose my temper with those closest to me and then start the process all over again.

I was once compared to a full copper kettle on the stove. The temperature was getting hotter and hotter yet no liquid was being released from the container and so the pressure would end up causing a massive reaction.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I realised how much stress this was causing and that I needed to deal with it or else the cycle would just keep on repeating itself.

The thing is, when you don't deal with what you're feeling- when you just stuff it deep down into your gut and refuse it to face it again- it will bite you on the arse.

It's not going to go away. Emotions need an outlet and, sooner or later, they're going to find a way to get out of you whether you like it or not, the choice is how you release it.

Whatever you do, don't internalise your feelings.

While some of us are more private than others, it is still majorly important that we find a safe, positive outlet for our build up feelings so that they don't fester and poison our relationships with the people around us. The last thing anyone wants is to find themselves getting really frustrated (say with their job) and taking out that pent up frustration on their family. It's not fair on the family and it makes the person who lost their temper feel even worse as they've upset the people that they love.

It isn't always easy when we're trying to juggle how we're feeling with what's going on in our lives but there are a few ways we can give ourselves an outlet so that we can think more clearly.

1) Beat the hell out of your bed/ pillow.

I'm not kidding. Throw yourself at it and pummel it like crazy. Scream into a pillow until your voice cuts off and them scream some more. Not only will this help to get rid of any frustration but it will help to tire yourself out enough for your mind to quieten. Just a piece of advice, though: make sure that the door is shut before you do. It can be difficult to explain to people what the hell you're doing!

2) Wrap your comforter around your shoulders and pull it tight so it gives you a 'hug'.

I'm telling you, when you feel down yet you don't really want to share what's on your mind with those close to you or you just want some time to gather your thoughts, giving yourself a hug with the duvet is great. Once again, you may want to shut the door...

3) Write it down.

Whether it's in a journal, diary or maybe just on a scrap piece of paper or a word document on your computer. Get down everything you're feeling- no matter how childish or silly it may seem. Release it all onto that paper- trust me, you'll feel a lot better for it afterwards.

4) Have a long soak in the bath.

This is a great way to get rid of some stress as well as give you some time to clear your head and think things over, after all, no one should really be trying to talk to you when you're in the bathroom.

5) Walk it/ shake it/ run it off

Exercise is good for you anyway but when it also produces those lovely endorphins it can help you to blow off some steam and begin to process your emotions. It clears your head and helps you to rationalise why you were feeling that way in the first place so that you can work out whether it was justified, how to go about solving the situation/ problem that made you feel that way and how you can avoid feeling that way again.

Emotions, while they can hinder us, are ultimately there to help us. They allow us to process things as well as to enjoy fantastic moments in our lives and find real joy in being around the people we love or getting a sense of excitement when we experience something new. They help us to enjoy life to the fullest.

So, next time you feel like your head might explode, let it out and then get back to savouring the good things in life- don't waste it by letting negativity brew inside- feeling the need to store up all that chaos really isn't worth your health or your happiness.

Have you been bottling anything up lately? How did you deal with it? Let me know!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

So tell me, why ARE you 'putting up with it'?

Meet Fred. Fred is in his thirties and is an accountant at a law firm. He doesn't really like his job, his boss is overbearing, his work colleagues constantly slack off leaving him to deal with everything but he gets on with it.

After work, he goes home and spends some time with his partner and his kids before going out for a drink with some of the guys. His friend Paul, after having several beers and spending the night embarrassing Fred, has realised that he's forgotten his wallet again and nags Fred to pay for him. Fred does, mumbling under his breath, before going back home feeling fed up after the day he's had.

Image from Google

Why is Fred putting up with this?

Maybe it's because Fred feels as though he has no other option. Maybe it's because Fred feels as though this is his life now and he has to 'put up with it', take a stiff upper lip and just get on with things.

But what if Fred is wrong? What if Fred doesn't have to 'put up with it'?

What if things could change?

We tend to carry on with how things are without trying to alter them for various reasons. Sometimes we can't imagine things any other way- we become so used to how things are that we can't see any alternative and so become stuck in that mind-set. Sometimes we feel as though making a change might cause harm to ourselves or those around us or that the decision to do something might blow up in our face and cause a lot of damage to our lives. Sometimes the problem is that we just accept the love or the respect that we think we deserve.

Change is scary. No matter what the change is you will always get that flutter of nerves in the pit of your stomach. Yet, if you do nothing, no matter how much you wish for things to change they're not going to.

Whenever you find yourself wondering if you should do something, it's important to ask yourself the simple question of why you are putting up with the problem and come up with three good reasons.

Let's get back to Fred. Why is he putting up with his job? He may feel as though he has to put up with his job to pay the bills, he may feel as though he has to put up with his job as he doesn't have anything else to go to and he may feel as though he has to put up with his job because his family are relying on him to provide an income.

All three are very good, very legitimate reasons but notice that not one of them give a reason as to why he has to put up with it forever but rather for now.

Let's look at the other problem in Fred's life. His friend Paul, after giving him grief all night, has gotten Fred to pay his bill for him again- something which seems to be a reoccurring problem. Why is he putting up with his friend's behaviour? It could be because he's a friend... but why else would he put up with it? It may cause an argument with his friend if he doesn't approach the problem carefully but apart from that there is nothing to gain from staying quiet.

So, what do we do when we try to come up with three reasons and can't? What's next?

You take the time to work out your next step.

You start to look for other jobs whilst carrying on with the one you have. You think of how to talk to your friend and explain how their behaviour isn't acceptable. You accept that you have a problem and try to work out how to tackle it from there. Step by step.

Where are you having issues in your life? Do you really have to put up with it or can you make a change for the better?

Think about it.